Sometimes change isn’t progress. Sometimes it isn’t even change – still this was the day Michele Bachmann announced she would not run for congress again. When her term ends that’ll be it – she’ll be leaving government.
This was a surprise, as she pretty much founded the Tea Party Caucus in the House, and she certainly was vocal, even if almost always wrong about the facts. She ran for president too – she won the Ames Straw Poll in August 2011 but dropped out in January 2012 after finishing in sixth place in the Iowa caucuses. Between the two events she raised holy hell, often embarrassing her party while delighting the Tea Party crowd, and delighting Democrats too. The other candidates might be goofy, or strange, or stiff and wooden, or mean and nasty, or clueless, but she was the one truly crazy one. She once wanted everyone to boycott the census, because collecting anything more than a raw headcount was unconstitutional – except doing the census every ten years, without restrictions, is right there in the Constitution, as a fixed requirement. Yeah, but the less the nation knows about itself the better.
In her presidential campaign it didn’t get any better:
Making her first trek to New Hampshire as a 2012 prospect, Bachmann told a GOP crowd in Manchester: “You’re the state where the shot was heard around the world at Lexington and Concord.”
The Revolutionary War began, not in New Hampshire’s capital, but in the famous two towns more than 50 miles away in Massachusetts.
Maybe she was having a bad day, but there was this too:
Speaking in January to an Iowa anti-tax group, Bachmann claimed that the authors of the country’s founding documents sought to end slavery.
“The very founders that wrote those documents worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States,” she said.
While some of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were in favor of abolishing slavery, they were, of course, dead when the institution was ended following the Civil War.
Bachmann singled out John Quincy Adams as someone who “would not rest until slavery was extinguished in the country.”
But John Quincy Adams, the sixth president who went on to campaign vigorously against slavery while serving in the U.S. House, was not yet 9 years old when the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776; he died in 1848 – nearly two decades before the 13th Amendment was ratified abolishing slavery.
Yeah, well – whatever – but everyone remembers this:
Speaking in the presidential debate, Bachmann said Texas Governor Rick Perry’s 2007 order mandating human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines for school girls was a “violation of a liberty interest,” CBS News reported.
“I’m a mom of three children,” Bachmann said during the debate in Tampa, Florida. “And to have innocent little 12-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection through an executive order is just flat out wrong.”
Bachmann went one step further the following day on the Today Show, saying that a mother came up to her in tears following the debate, and told Bachmann that her daughter became mentally retarded after receiving the HPV vaccine.
“It can have very dangerous side effects,” she said on Today. “This is the very real concern, and people have to draw their own conclusions.”
Cue the medical community. Experts immediately jumped to debunk these claims.
She was wrong – dangerously so – but now she’s as good as gone, although there was some specialized disappointment. See Glenn Kessler in the Washington Post with Michele Bachmann: A Fact Checker’s Dream – as he’ll miss her. There had been one of these howlers each week or so for years. She had become a fixture, or a legend – and a reliable something-to-talk-about for a whole cottage industry of fact-checkers.
Now she’s gone. How did this happen? Slate’s Josh Voorhees explains how things had turned sour for her:
Initial news coverage seems to be linking this to an Ethics Committee investigation into the possible misuse of PAC funds to support her nominal 2012 presidential bid. But I think the relevant precedent here is South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint resigning in order to run the Heritage Foundation. Or perhaps former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee taking a pass at a 2012 presidential bid in favor of working as a Fox News host. Which is to say that for many prominent conservative elected officials, getting out of politics and into the conservative edutainment industry seems like a more appealing and interesting option than continuing to work in politics. You can particularly see this in the case of Bachmann. She’s an unusually famous House member, but becoming a powerful House member is hard work and often takes a long time. The state of Minnesota as a whole isn’t nearly conservative enough for Bachmann to become governor or senator without moderating somewhat, and back-bench House members can’t really run for president. But if Bachmann gets out, I’m sure she can earn plenty of money writing books or making TV shows or doing speaking appearances.
That paragraph has since been removed, as he borrowed it from another Slate writer, but be that as it may, Ed Kilgore covers the dramatic announcement:
In an excruciating video (yes, I watched the entire eight minutes and thirty-nine seconds) from her campaign, Rep. Michele Bachmann announced she would not, after all, be running for a fifth term in 2014. Long as her “announcement” was – she managed to work in her entire biography, talking points on BENGHAZI! and the IRS, a shot at her “detractors” and a great big shout-out to God – she never really explained why she was hanging it up, though she did allow as how it had nothing to do with her growing ethics problems or with the fact that she was facing what Politico called an “existential threat” in a rematch with 2012 opponent Jim Graves.
Yeah, if she wasn’t censured for ethics violations, or convicted of crimes, she’d lose the next election anyway, and Kilgore adds this:
Like any left-of-center political writer, I’ve appreciated Bachmann’s hijinks over the years, not just because of her ability to bring The Crazy like no one else, but because she really did complicate the lives of those who wanted to neatly divide today’s radicalized conservative movement into secular and religious “wings,” or treat the Tea Party as something new and different from yesterday’s extremists. She was probably the first nationally prominent pol to consistently label herself as a “constitutional conservative,” a self-identifying term that is still growing like topsy in usage and may well become ubiquitous on the Right before long, despite or perhaps because of its arrogance and its assertion of eternally valid governing models and cultural standards from the distant past. I’ll probably never be able to hear that particular dog whistle blow without thinking of Michele Bachmann. She was a forerunner in a lot of ways, God help us.
Voorhees, however, simply sees the problems here:
The Tea Party favorite also denied that her decision was “impacted in any way by the recent inquiries into the activities of my former presidential campaign.” Her failed 2012 bid for the GOP nomination had already drawn the attention of the Office of Congressional Ethics, the Federal Elections Commission, and an Iowa state Senate ethics committee, which are probing allegations that Bachmann’s campaign paid an Iowa state senator directly from her leadership PAC (MichelePAC) and other possible violations of campaign law. The FBI joined in on the investigatory action last week, according to the Minnesota Post. While retirement won’t make her immune to those charges, it will likely keep them farther from the front page.
That’s important, and that called for a preemptive strike:
Predicting that reporters would read between the lines, Bachmann went on the defensive before she was even finished with her retirement announcement. “I fully anticipate the mainstream liberal media to put a detrimental spin on my decision not to seek a fifth term,” she said.
She’ll fight any detrimental spin, because she could have a bright future, as Matthew Yglesias explains:
I think the relevant precedent here is South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint resigning in order to run the Heritage Foundation – or perhaps former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee taking a pass at a 2012 presidential bid in favor of working as a Fox News host – which is to say that for many prominent conservative elected officials, getting out of politics and into the conservative edutainment industry seems like a more appealing and interesting option than continuing to work in politics. You can particularly see this in the case of Bachmann. …
Of course the tension between a desire to make money and a desire to move up in politics also exists for Democrats. But it’s the conventional tension that exists on both sides between ideological purity and the lure of K Street deal-making. The conservative movement has become strong enough as a social force that you can get rich by being a conservative media star, which would not work for liberals.
Yes, things are different in the conservative world. There, holding political office is playing in the minor leagues, where you polish your game, before you move up to the majors, the big leagues – Fox News. That’s where you change the world, or something – and where you make good money too. Political office isn’t where you finally attain fame and real power, only a stop on the way to fame and power – and thus the real model here is Sarah Palin. She lost. She didn’t become our vice president, and then she suddenly just quit her job as Alaska’s governor less than halfway through her first term. Everyone said her political career was over, and so it was, but so what? She’s more famous than ever, and now wealthy, even if Fox News eventually cut her loose – and her chunky and rather dim daughter appeared on Dancing with the Stars too. It’s a different mindset. It probably has something to do with that Reagan notion that government is always the problem, never the solution. There’s no reason to think holding office is all that important, really. It’s just something you do, for a time. The real action is elsewhere.
David Atkins, a Democratic operative out here in California, puts it this way:
Normally one would be inclined to blow Bachmann off as a joke, a fortunate passing virus of outrageousness that has fortunately run its course.
But that isn’t the case. The Republican Party has been overtaken by an army of Bachmann clones just as crazy as she is.
Nor will Bachmann likely disappear from the public stage. She’ll simply pull off the Sarah Palin grift, moving effortlessly from elected office to some wingnut welfare sinecure on Fox News, The Blaze or elsewhere. That’s the modern conservative movement in a nutshell: the Elmer Gantry’s, the corporations that fund them, and the rabid aging flock of white wool sheep who follow them in the hope of repealing the civil rights movement, the sexual revolution and empathy in general. It little matters if the hucksters walk the halls of Congress, the conservative media, or the boardroom. It’s all for one and one for all.
There’s an alternative theory, of course, given this detail:
The Federal Election Commission and the Office of Congressional Ethics are investigating whether her campaign concealed payments to an Iowa state senator who did work for her 2012 presidential bid. (A state ethics law bars senators from doing paid campaign work.)
That’s why the FBI jumped in, and Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog runs with that:
Wait! A proud constitutional conservative and fervent believer in limited government is under investigation by the FBI – part of Antichrist Eric Holder’s Justice Department – and the GOP and right-wing noise machine aren’t rushing to her defense? No one’s calling this a witch hunt? No one’s claiming that this is part of the Obama jihad against True Patriots? No one’s dismissing the other investigations as traffic-ticket stuff?
Well, obviously the GOP establishment considers Bachmann a liability – it’s done no pushback on her behalf. A couple of months ago there was speculation that she might run for the Senate against Al Franken (even though polls showed that she’d be crushed) – but whether she ran for the Senate seat or just for reelection, she was likely to be a Todd Akin, a loose cannon saying things that would rub off on other Republican candidates across the country, at a time when party establishmentarians like Karl Rove are hoping to hold the House and win back the Senate by de-Akinizing their candidate list.
(Recall that just before the Iowa straw poll in 2011, a story appeared in the Daily Caller claiming that Bachmann engages in “heavy pill use” to combat severe migraines, after which Rove called for her to release medical records. She won the straw poll anyway, driving establishment favorite Tim Pawlenty out of the race, though her campaign imploded a few months later.)
So, yeah, the GOP wanted to nudge her out of the way, and not gently. She’s outlived her usefulness.
She was fragged, so to speak – see GOP Strategists Breathe Sigh of Relief as Bachmann Exits at Talking Points Memo. They are relieved, but also see the master statistician Nate Silver with Bachmann’s Retirement Reduces Electoral Risk for GOP – where Silver demonstrates that they can now run someone who will actually win easily in that heavily Republican district, and thus they can hold the House. Maybe she was asked to take one for the team. If so, her future at Fox News is even brighter.
Does that mean her political career amounted to nothing at all? No, she left a legacy, as American Prospect’s Jamelle Bouie argues here:
In her short time as a candidate, Bachmann blamed natural disasters on America’s unwillingness to cut non-defense discretionary spending, accused Texas Governor Rick Perry of spreading autism with mandatory vaccinations, warned that Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had plans to bomb the United States with a nuclear weapon, and pushed for a full ban on pornography.
The unhinged insanity of all of this is worth noting. But what we should also point out is that none of this disqualified her from consideration as a presidential candidate. Not only did Bachmann win the Iowa straw poll – a symbolic victory, but a victory nonetheless – but at one point, she led her competitors for the nomination. In a July survey from Public Policy Polling, 21 percent of Republican primary voters said she was their top choice for the nomination, compared to 20 percent for the eventual nominee, Mitt Romney, 12 percent for Rick Perry, and 11 percent for Herman Cain.
In other words, Bachmann may embarrass GOP elites, but actual Republicans don’t seem to have a huge problem with her or her antics.
Bouie says that’s her real legacy:
Indeed, if there’s a “Bachmann style” in conservative politics, it’s only grown more prominent since her moment in the spotlight. Texas Senator Ted Cruz is building his national brand by appealing to the same right-wing fever swamps. Conservatives describe him as a new “standard-bearer” for “constitutional conservatism” – a term popularized by Bachmann.
The entire Republican Party has taken a page from the Minnesota congresswoman with its obsessive focus on the Benghazi “scandal” and the situation at the Internal Revenue Service, using both to accuse President Obama of outright treason (in the case of Benghazi) and Nixonian tactics of intimidation (in the case of the IRS). The main difference between Bachmann and many of her Republican colleagues was of form, not content. Her view of President Obama – a dangerous left-wing tyrant – is shared by many on the right.
She simply stumbled too many times in her delivery, but she defined the new party:
Look, for example, at Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, a contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination who has also been known to moonlight as a conspiracy-monger. Earlier this month, he lent his name to a fundraising email that accused Obama of working with “anti-American globalists plot[ing] against the Constitution.”
It’s of a piece with South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham’s assertion that the Obama administration manipulated talking points to avoid political blame for the attacks in Benghazi during the presidential election. “This is a story of manipulation by the government with the president being complicit of trying to tell a story seven weeks before an election that was politically beneficial for the White House, but did not represent the facts on the ground,” Graham said during an interview on Fox News two weeks ago.
And that’s just the national Republican Party. In states like Virginia, the party has elevated candidates who take Bachmann’s extremism and dial it to 11. E.W. Jackson, the Virginia GOP’s nominee for lieutenant governor, has already made national news with his furious denunciations of same-sex marriage, LGBT Americans (they’re “sick people psychologically, mentally, and emotionally”), and Planned Parenthood (it’s worse than the Ku Klux Klan). Their gubernatorial nominee, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, differs only by degree. He won’t accuse reproductive rights advocates of engaging in an anti-black genocide, but he will go after groups that attempt to dispense accurate information on sexually transmitted infections, contraceptives, and sexual health.
She led the way:
Observers from across the political spectrum are cheering Michele Bachmann’s departure from politics, and for good reason: She was a toxic influence on public life. But it’s worth remembering that what she represents – extreme right-wing paranoia – is still present and powerful on the national stage.
That’s the point. Sometimes change isn’t progress. Sometimes it isn’t even change. That’s the case here. Others will take Michele Bachmann’s place, but it’s not like she is even going away. She’s just moving on. Nothing changes.